Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Youtube down again

Youtube seems to have been blocked on the mainland again, as I have just found out by getting the dreaded "Connection Interrupted" error when I tried to log on.

Testing through a proxy shows that it is definitely not a server problem, so I went on a looksy for videos that might have caused the decision. Not much luck though, unless it's a video entitled "I want to have 50 babies" ...bitterness on the One Child Policy maybe? Keep on reading...

Monday, 23 February 2009

Visa update for The Year of the Ox – shorter stays for foreigners all round.

Ironically, this year is my year. I was born in 1985, two whole oxen ago and so, in my opinion (I have no real idea what it entails if it IS your year in the Chinese zodiac) this year should be all good for me.

However, if you read my previous post about visa intricacies in China you may well know that the turn of the year wasn’t so good for me in terms of legality.

My student visa was up just at Chinese New Year, making it a little awkward to organise anything within China while at the same time making it slightly annoying to organise anything outside of China (getting plane tickets isn’t the easiest or cheapest thing to do around then).

I circumvented this problem however by managing to wangle a month-long tourist extension at the end of my Fudan stay, which – I was told – would let me go through one of the many travel agencies in China to change my L (tourist) via into an F (business) visa.

Well, when it came round to doing so I was told finally and very bluntly that no, I couldn’t get it done. Being as it was a final extension, it effectively meant that I had to get the hell out of the country at the end of it.

Which leads me to my current location: right now I’m outside the Chinese visa office in the Wanchai district of Hong Kong – a place well known by foreigners in China as one of the default visa top-up spots in the world.

Having joined the post-lunch queue on Harbour road, I handed over my passport, picture, and application form in the hope that my clever entry of “Longest planned stay in China: 120 days” would slip by the consulate officer and I would be on my way to an easier time all round when I got back to Shanghai.

It didn’t.

This came as no surprise though. Last week – after I was told politely that I had to get out of China – I made a few phone calls. Independent travel agencies, visa offices and China Travel Service (CTS) branches in Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Thailand and the UK all got calls from me wondering what the situation with F and L visas were like at the moment. Not one of them could offer anything more than a 30-day maximum stay.

London, which just before the Chinese New Year offered 60 and before Christmas offered at least 90 now only offers 30.

Hong Kong, which was previously the place-to-go for 90 days, now only offers 30.

The reasons for this: I have no idea. As is always the case this might be totally different in a month. But for now, if you’ve scheduled a visa run somewhere soon, don’t be optimistic about getting anymore that that.

(If you do however, please let me know how, and where, you got it done!)

And on a final note, the base cost for arranging visas internally has sky rocketed for UK passport holders. What was around the 3500 mark for six months before the beginning of February is now 4800, and a year is 7500
Keep on reading...

Friday, 30 January 2009

Exactly why I posted the last post.

A selection of comments from my last post.
"I don't know the exact Z-visa regulations... The "28-year old" rule is new to me, I have people working for me who are younger than 28 and who have a Z-visa."

"The only companies who can get a Z visa are those that have a lot of revenue. Also, the 28 year old rule and two years from graduation date are true."

"There is no "28-years" rule as far as I know, only a "25-years" rule: you needed to be born before 1983 in 2008 to be eligible for a Z-visa. You also need 2 years work experience."

"About the Z visa, there is neither a minimum age limit nor have I EVER heard of a "time-since-graduation" requirement, at least never once when I got mine."

I don't really know if i have to write anything here. But for a little game, which one of the above comments is right? Don't know? Nope, neither do I. Keep on reading...

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Visa troubles: trials, tribulations and tomfoolery

It's been a long time since I've written an entry for this here blog, and a lot has happened since then.

To break it down into its shortest explanation: I've left Fudan, I've left the Shanghai Daily, I've moved apartment and I've started working for these guys. So it's been a hectic post-New Year in Shanghai and more information about jobs/what I'm going to be up to over the next few months will be on here forthwith. Right now however, I would like to take some time to explain the issue that has caused me the most stress in the last few weeks: visas.

To begin, there are no regulations set in stone in any one place that details what kind of state the Chinese visa situation is in at any one time. Each city in China is different in terms of what they can offer foreigners; that said, each city (Chinese consulate) in the world is different in what they can offer.

My problem begins with the fact that I was, up until next week, residing in this country in the guise of a student. All the usual student accoutrements accompanied this. A student ID, class enrollment forms, a dorm room and, of course, an X visa.

An X visa is a visa given to students. You had probably already guessed this. Aside from X visas China offers seven types of visa. L, F, Z, J, C, D and G. The latter three you'll probably never hear about as not many people get them: visiting visa for air-craft crew etc, permanent resident and transit through China respectively.

Of the other ones, you will hear – and may already have heard – a lot more about.

L visas are probably your most common, standard tourist visa. These will generally be for 30 days and one entry (which means if you leave the country, that's it, you're done. Go get a new one). They can be extended though, up to three times for 30 days each time. So you can just pop down to the police station, fill in a form, give em some cash and you have a new visa. The bummer is, after the third time's up you have to get out. No arguing.

F's are pretty common too. Although Z is the official working visa, I haven't met many people with one, and most foreigners who are working in China are working on an F visa cough, illegally. F visas used to be pretty sweet (I've heard). They used to be year-long multiple entry visas that you could get overseas and come here on "business". Officially, they're visas intended for people invited on trips for some purpose other than travel. Like being a lecturer for a few guest lectures, or going to a few business meetings. That kind of thing. For this you need a letter of invitation from an official company in China. That official letter, however, can be provided by pretty much any travel agency. For a fee.

X visas are, as I said, student visas. They're a bitch to get sorted (health checks, lots more forms, more forms, money, then some more forms) but once you do get it sorted, they give you a thing of beauty: a resident's permit. A ticket to stay in China for as long as it is valid (mine is the 31st of January).

So I begin working with Fly Films and the most pressing issue on my mind is the fact that I need to get a new visa pretty sharpish or I'm heading back to the UK (a prospect that doesn't excite me very much right now). Unfortunately, Chinese regulations limit the number of work visas a company can issue (I've heard it's based on the number of Chinese employees working there) so getting a Z visa is not an option. It also requires the applicant to be 28, I'm not. (UPDATE 26/1 22:04 - Marc you're absolutely right, this info is from an outfit in Beijing, I'm being told in Shanghai that I need to have graduated no less than two years ago - I graduated last June so not good news - and I have to be a relative "expert" in my field/not be someone the company could have employed locally)

So an F visa is the one I'm going for. Luckily, travel agencies attest to the fact that they can sort this all out for you. Great, I thought, until I try to get it done.

One company (run by a Mr. Magic and hailed as Shanghaiist's favourite visa agency) told me that they might be able to organise the flip from an X to an F visa, but not until everyone's come back from Chinese New Year around the 2nd of February. My visa runs out the 31st of January, is this going to be a problem? Most definitely, he says, you're going to need to go to Hong Kong.

This is the other option aside from getting a travel agency to organise your visa internally: get out of China, apply there, then come back. This is normally fine, so I give a travel agency in Hong Kong a call to check what the situation's like down there. I'm told that I can apply for a 6 month F visa, and it's considerably cheaper than getting it up here, although factoring in plane tickets/accommodation/being in Hong Kong it works out a little more expensive.

Return flight to HK right now: 2500 RMBish
Visa in Hong Kong: 1000 HK Dollars
+ other stuff total = 3500 + RMB

Getting a 6 month visa in Shanghai = 3500 RMB.

However, the travel agent then mentions that it would be a multiple entry with 30 day limit. that means that even though my visa lasts for six months I can only stay in the country each time for 30 days (get a train to Shenzhen, walk across the border, turn right back around, get back on the train).

That, to me, doesn't sound like a fun option. So I phone back Mr Magic and plead with him to see if there's anything he can do at all. Nope, he says, you got to wait and see what the New Year brings. Great.

So in my head I'm now calculating that what I would have to do is go to HK, get a month long F visa, come back to Shanghai, give that to Mr Magic, get a 6 month multiple entry NO STAY LIMIT visa and then be done with it. this would cost around 7000 RMB. That's expensive for six months.

So I start playing with the idea of going home, I can get a return flight to London for 3500 RMB, get a 6 month F visa for £70 (700 RMB) plus I get to go see people I haven't seen in a while. I call the London Embassy. They can give me 60 day stay limits. Also not good. Korea = 60 day limits. New york (apparently = 90 days, although was previously 180).

So I'm beginning to think that I'm screwed. All this time of course I'm trawling blogs and forums searching for a possible answer, when I see one guy has posted an email link to a Beijing-based travel agency that is apparently "not cheap" but really good at advice. I email them.

They lived up to expectations. One very kind gentleman emailed me a very long reply that detailed how I should go about getting a Z visa if I wanted to. The gem, however, was what he said near the beginning of the email.

"As you have just finished your studies it would not be unreasonable for you to want to see something of China. Also, as travelling around China is very difficult (busy) around Spring Festival holiday it would also not be an unreasonable idea that you would want to tour around after The Spring Festival Holiday. My suggestion is that you check your local Public Security Bureau opening times and apply just before Spring Festival holiday for a tourist visa - an L Visa for one month at least. If you can outline a longer itinerary you might get a longer period - you could try asking for three months. An L visa you can arrange yourself without professional assistance."

So I phone the PSB and ask if this is an option. Of course it is, the girl says, we just need your graduation certificate and your passport and, why not, a form, and you'll be on your way. You can only get one month though.

Problem is here, that I never graduated from Fudan, I wasn't on any kind of real program. But I decide to see if the Students' Office won't give me a piece of paper I can use.

Sure enough though, when I go to the FSO they've all buggered off for the holidays and left one poor receptionist to deal with everything that might get thrown at her. Now the FSO at Fudan is notoriously unhelpful when it comes to matters of any kind, visas in particular, but this recpetionist (who I'd never seen before) was a Godsend. She joked around a while, made a phone call, printed out a bit of paper, asked if that's what I needed and then took the holy grail of all things Chinese from a drawer (a red stamp) and sent me on my way to the PSB.

It took an hour or so to get seen down at the Minsheng Road Entry-Exit bureau, but it took all of 2 minutes to hand the guy my paperwork, ask if there was any way to get three months, get declined (but accepted for a month) and told to pick it up after next week's holiday.

Total cost of one month = One day of running around + 160 RMB.

Now, of course this doesn't sort me out for the long haul, it does however let me ride out Spring Festival. If I HAVE to go to HK at least next month it's going to be cheaper. The real bitch, however, is that when I phoned Mr Magic and told him this plan he told me that I would need to leave after the month, that it wasn't extendable. Could they change that visa to a 6 month F visa though? Oh yeah, of course, that they could do.

So the moral of the story is: don't listen to travel agents alone, go to the PSB and see what they can do first. Chances are they might give you something. If they don't, then go to a travel agent and ask them what they can do for you. I say this mainly because if my field of specialty was organising visa solutions for foreigners I would have seen this option (get a one month tourist visa then an F visa) pretty much straight away. If he had seen this option then he would have probably made some money off of me as they charge 560 RMB for getting a 160 RMB visa and if he had included it in a package to ultimately turn it into an F visa, I would have probably just handed it straight to him and never thought to find out how much it would cost to do on my own.

To recap my visa will cost: 160 RMB for February + 3500 RMB to change it an F visa.

That's considerably less than what it was going to cost, plus I don't have to leave the city.
Keep on reading...

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Some horrible, horrible self plugging

So it's the middle of December, I'm almost done with my stint at Fudan (which turned out to be less of a stint and more of a joke), and I'm also wrapping up things at the Shanghai Daily before heading to the Christmas land of Taiwan for the holidays.

And because of the festive cheer that surrounds the festive period, why don't you all festively click on this festive link, then click on the big "plus" button underneath where it says how many points I have...

Seriously though, if you've enjoyed reading this blog over the last four months then give me a vote in the Chinalyst 2008 blog awards. Who knows, if I get enough votes, I might keep blogging in the new year... Keep on reading...

Thursday, 4 December 2008

The all seeing, all powerful State Media

So the Guardian ran with the story of this year's graduate employment slump today, a story that has been making the rounds through small papers, Xinhua and, of course, the Shanghai Daily. It's a scary story, but that is not what this post is about.

The story cites a quote from another source at the end, detailing how dire the situation is for graduates right now. The quote wasn't given to one paper though. Apparently the student told "the state media."

Now, what does that mean? Does that mean that the student told the entire body of state media? In which case that would be a pretty huge chunk of people who got told the same quote (all Chinese media are state run in some way). Does it mean that it was told to the big, official players (Xinhua, CCTV, The People's Daily etc)? Or does it just mean that it was told to any Chinese newspaper/TV station and the Guardian decided to play the "state media" card?

Before I sound like a propagandist for the Chinese media, I am not saying the Chinese media is perfect. Far from it. My problem is with when we fuel misunderstanding back home with phrases like that – catch all terms that are not wrong, but are not very specific either.

First of all, each media institution in China is in competition with the others, therefore to say that something was given to the state media implies that it was given to everyone, for everyone to use.

Also, by the very tone, it also suggests that censorship and regulation of the media is a highly oiled, impressively efficient, all-seeing, all-knowing process. It's not. There are numerous different bodies involved in controlling the media, each with a lot of their own bureaucracy. Yes, censorship does happen – more often than not on a self-censorship level – but papers have been learning to push boundaries over the last few years and the government is slowly catching up.

This year, for example, during the Sichuan earthquake, saw some of the most open coverage of a disaster ever seen in China. Two earthquakes in the 1970s (Tonghai which killed around 15000 in 1970 and Tangshan which killed hundreds of thousands in 1976) were kept quiet by authorities. Sichuan, however, was everywhere. In papers, on the TV, on the Internet. It's being hailed in journalism schools in China (or Fudan's anyway) as one of the biggest markers for the development of Chinese journalism.

Anyway, my point is that there is no meaning in citing a quote from "state media". Not only is it vague, it is also misleading. A lot of criticism from Chinese journalists and academics focuses on the belief that the West views China through rose-tinted glasses. It's when we print things like that that we are, and I have to agree with them.

Guardian story
Shanghai Daily
My story in the Edinburgh Journal about this kind of stuff (Not up week?)
Keep on reading...

Sunday, 23 November 2008

China hacks the world!

China is poised to take over the world with its impressive array of cyber warfare techniques, anti-satellite weaponry and unfair trade controls, according to a US Congressional report presented last Thursday.

The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission released its annual report to the US Congress and recommended 45 different courses of action to rectify what they declare as "impedments [sic] to U.S. Economic and national security interests".

It decries China's "heavy-handed" control of the economy in amassing a huge amount of foreign currency, which has been used to "manipulate currency trading and diplomatic relations with other nations."

In addition, the bipartisan commission (6 Democrats and 6 Republicans) alleges that China is stealing sensitive information from the US through hackers and claims that in 2007 5 million computers in America were subject to 43,880 attacks.

China is denying all of this, and Xinhua are reporting that the Foreign Ministry have gone as far as saying that the claims are "unworthy of rebuttal".

Beijing sees the report as another vilification of China in the Western press, a hot topic this year with media pressure on issues like Tibet, Xinjiang, the Olympics and freedom of the press hitting a nerve with the Chinese government.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told Xinhua: "The commission always see China through distorted color spectacles, and intentionally create obstacles for the China-U.S. cooperation in extensive fields through smearing China deliberately and misleading the general public."

However, the report does acknowledge "some progress by China," especially in its continued involvement in non-proliferation talks.

US-China review
Xinhua: China rejects U.S. congressional panel report
Keep on reading...